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FCC order angers cable industry

August 1, 2011 | 12:31 pm

A new order from the Federal Communications Commission may add even more tension to the complex relationships between programmers and cable operators.

Looking to ensure that a channel does not get taken off of a cable system when a programmer gets into a dispute with a distributor and files a complaint at the FCC, the commission issued a "stand still" order that would keep a channel on while the regulatory agency makes a decision.

Cable networks seeking to get carriage can also try to convince the FCC that they are being unfairly discriminated against, and if they convince the agency that is happening, the agency will mandate that they be distributed.

The agency's action is seen as trying to boost independent networks that are not affiliated with a major distributor.

The move was seen by cable operators as unnecessary and an example of the government getting involved in business dealings between companies.

Michael Powell, a former FCC chairman who now heads the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn., the cable industry's Washington lobbying group, said the agency's actions show a "disturbing lack of appreciation of the potential impact of government intervention on consumers or the marketplace."

Comcast, the nation's largest cable operator, said the FCC order is "not justified by any record and will result in additional regulatory burdens."

Consumer advocates and media watchdogs cheered the decision, calling it vital for independent programmers struggling to get distribution in today's consolidated media environment.

“This will promote diversity in cable TV offerings by insuring that independent cable channels have a shot at getting carriage on large cable systems," said Andrew Schwartzman, policy director at the Media Access Project.  "These changes," he added, "will not, by themselves, fix all the problems with a system dominated by a handful of cable operators, but it is certainly a welcome change all the same.”

-- Joe Flint

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